History of Pearl River Flood Control Efforts
The Easter flood of 1979 was one of the most costly and devastating floods to ever occur in the state of Mississippi, causing an estimated $500-$700 million in damages. Thousands of homes and businesses in the Jackson area were inundated in the flood stage that lasted from 10 to 14 days in some areas. After the Easter flood, Congress authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to develop a comprehensive flood control plan for the Jackson metropolitan area.
Thirty-eight years after the 1979 flood, a comprehensive flood control plan for the Jackson metropolitan area still has not been instituted.
Since 1979, numerous Pearl River flood control plans have been introduced. Originally, flood control plans, such as the Shoccoe Dry Dam Plan authorized by Congress in 1986 and the Comprehensive Levee Plan proposed by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1996, focused solely on flood control and their environmental impact. Later, flood control plans attempted to generate economic development opportunities as well as provide flood control, starting with the Two Lakes Plan in 1996, the LeFleur Lakes Plan, the Lower Lake Plan and the One Lake Project.
In 1996, US Army Corps of Engineers Feasibility Report, Flood Control, Pearl River Basin, Jackson Metropolitan Area, Mississippi recommended a system of flood walls and levees for flood control called the Comprehensive Levee Plan.
Also in 1996, the Two Lakes Plan was proposed by John McGowan, his oil and gas company, McGowan Working Partners, and other landowners who advocated for the building of two lakes on the Pearl River. The plan included dredging and widening the Pearl River channel between the Ross Barnett Reservoir and Richland and the insertion of weirs to create a 4,500-acre upper lake and a 500-acre lower lake. The Corps of Engineers estimated that the project would cost about $1.5 billion including a $150 million landfill removal. The Levee Board and the Corps of Engineers rejected the project.
In 1998, the Comprehensive Levee Plan proposed by the Army Corps of Engineers failed to receive local support.
In 2001, Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District (RHPRFDCD)(also known as the Levee Board) accepted the role of local sponsor, taking over responsibility for planning and executing flood control projects in the Jackson area. The 1962 Urban Flood and Drainage Control Law allows for the creation of flood and drainage districts typically referred to as "state agencies". The Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review (PEER) report 545, notes that, in this case, "this particular district lacks certain attributes commonly associated with state agencies. The district is not subject to the appropriations and budgetary oversight processes of the Legislature." The report also state that the RHPRFDCD "appears" to be immune to tort claim issues because its area of service and responsibility is not statewide. The RHPRFDCD budget comes from millage generated by property owners who live within its boundaries.
"Of particular note are the efforts of the district's board related to recent efforts to improve flood control through the consideration of both levee protection and several proposals dealing with the construction of lakes along the Pearl River." PEER Report 545
In 2001, RHPRFDCD adopted the LeFleur Lakes Plan, a flood control and economic development plan similar to John McGowan's Two Lakes Plan, but slightly modified.
In 2006, The RHPRFDCD established a nonprofit called the LeFleur Lakes Development Foundation to assist with funding. According to PEER report 545, active members of the RHPRFDCD also served on the Board of Directors for the new non-profit Foundation. PEER report 545 states that, "because the LeFleur Lakes Development Foundation is a non-profit organization, it is eligible to apply for grants for which the district is ineligible. The foundation received $99,200 through the Housing and Urban Development Economic Development Initiative Grant for FY 2009, $347,200 through the Housing and Urban Development Neighborhood Initiative Grant for FY 2009, and $345,530 through the Small Business Association Congressional Mandated Award to be used toward the LeFleur Lakes Project for FY 2007."
From 2003 to 2007, the RHPRFDCD worked with the Corps of Engineers to study the LeFleur Lakes Plan. The $2.85 million budget for the LeFleur Lakes Plan study was to be split by the Corps and the RHPRFDCD. The Boards of Supervisors of Hinds and Rankin counties agreed to provide the 50% local cost share.
After 11 years of modifications and planning, the various lake projects failed to meet the Corps standards for being economically or environmentally feasible.
In 2007, after several modification attempts, the Corps concluded that the LeFleur Lakes Plan was less effective as a flood control than the Comprehensive Levee Plan. In addition to providing less flood control, one modification called the LeFleur Lakes plus Additional Levees Plan had an estimated cost of $1.4 billion, not an economically viable flood control plan according to the Corps of Engineers.
After the failure of the LeFleur Lakes Plan, the RHPRFDCD proposed the Lower Lake Plan. "The Lower Lake Plan estimates $605 million in upfront costs for levee stabilization, lake construction, property aquisition and core infrastructure with the majority of the costs expected to fall on the public sector".
In July 2007, The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) authorized federal expenditure for the Comprehensive Levee Plan or a locally preferred plan. Federal funding participation is limited to the amount necessary to pay the federal share (65%) of the Comprehensive Levee Plan which equals $133,770,000. The WRDA from the Army Corps of Engineers written in May 2008 authorizes the RHPRFDCD to execute the plan as Section 211 project, which allows authorized non-federal agencies to undertake flood reduction projects with a higher degree of local control.
Between 1979 and 2010, four Pearl River flood control studies were conducted in order to find a "politically supportable, implementable flood control solution for the Jackson metropolitan area. Combined, the studies cost federal and local taxpayers approximately $7 million. However, none of the studied options have gained the necessary local and federal support needed for implementation." PEER Report 545
In 2011, John McGowan and other real estate developers formed a nonprofit called the Pearl River Vision Foundation to promote a new lake development called the One Lake plan. A draft agreement between the Rankin-Hinds Levee Board and the Pearl River Vision Foundation stated that, "Pearl River Vision proposed to utilize the expertise of the services of John McGowan of McGowan Working Partners and several engineering, environmental and legal professionals, with all such services being provided at no cost to the district, as a means to address the District's desire to complete the flood control project study..." At that time, the Corps of Engineers, concerned about the structure of how they were putting the deal together, required that a Conflict of Interest policy be drafted.
In Oct 2012, the Vision 2022 presentation by the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership included the One Lake project as part of its Jackson-area economic development plan. The Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership donated $200,000 to the RHPRFDCD for the One Lake EIS and feasibility studies.
In May 2013, the Mississippi Development Authority with permission from Governor Phil Bryant, provided the One Lake project with $1 million of Mississippi state funds for the One Lake EIS and feasibility studies. After receiving this grant, the RHPRFDCD reimbursed the Pearl River Vision Foundation more than $200,000 in costs associated with the EIS and feasibility study.
In 2016, Mississippi's congressional delegation added a provision to the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) directing the Army Corps of Engineers to "expedite" its review of the One Lake draft EIS/feasibility study.
In 2017, House Bill 1585 gave the RHPRFDCD authority to tax "property that is directly or indirectly benefited" by a flood control project. The bill allows the RHPRFDCD authority to decided which land within the district would benefit from the One Lake project and "levy a special improvement assessment" in order to "provide funds for the operation, maintenance and preservation of the project."
In February 2018, House Bill 1631, "An Act to Authorize the Issuance of State General Obligation Bonds in the amount of $50,000,000 to Assist the Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District in the construction of Flood Control Project on the Pearl River", was referred to the MS House Ways and Means Committee. During the bill debate on the House floor, Representatives were told that the One Lake project had approval from the Army Corps of Engineers and MDEQ when, in fact, the Army Corps of Engineers has not yet released their study and MDEQ has not approved it. The House vote failed on 2/20, a Motion to Reconsider Entered (Smith, Lamar), and the House vote passed on 2/22. The Bill was transmitted to the Senate on 2/23. The Senate Finance Committee will be the next to vote on the bill.
The Corps of Engineers is currently completing their Agency Technical Review (ATR). When the ATR is complete, the EIS/Feasibility Report will be released to the public with a public comment period and public meetings.
Pearl Riverkeeper asks that everyone make his or her own decision regarding the One Lake project using sound science and engineering. We encourage the review and thorough analysis of all available information. We welcome comments and feedback. Please email Pearl Riverkeeper or visit our Facebook for comment space. Our publishing, or re-publishing, of anyone else's research or opinions is not an endorsement on our part of those conclusions.